Sunday, May 27, 2012

Titanic survivor Douglas Spedden 1905-1915 and the victim of another technology.

The RMS Titanic with her sisters were a great leap in the field of technology. The Olympic, Titanic and what was to be Gigantic (later Britannic) were the queens of the ocean. This would not last long, and in the case of the Titanic not even a single voyage. But this story is not about the Titanic, it is about a little boy who was aboard her. Douglas Spedden was six an a half years old when he went on the Titanic.

 His father and mother adored him and went out of their way to make his life happy. In that it was. He did not want for anything as his parents were very wealthy. The image of a doting father is quite plainly seen in this remarkable picture taken by Father Browne, who was one of only two groups of people to take photographs and leave the ship in Ireland. Browne took this picture of little Douglas spinning a top. You can see the pull string in his hand and he watches the top intently. His father Frederic Spedden watches his son as does everyone else.  Spinning tops do not get that kind of attention anymore!

 I do not like to use the movie Titanic to illustrate a scene, but, this very scene is in the movie and Jack Dawson takes the coat that is seen here sitting on the deck chair. It is found on him when he is arrested.

Now back to the story. It is very fortunate that the entire Spedden family and nannies survived. Life went on as it had before for the Speddens.   Young Douglas would be a big admirer of football and loved to throw and toss the ball. While on vacation in Maine, Douglas's ball rolled out into a street and he followed after it. He was then hit by an automobile. How many cars were in Maine in 1915?

Young Douglas would die from the trauma of the accident. The young boy survived the technology of the seas only to succumb to the technology of the roads.  This event devastated the family and they never truly got over it. From the time of his birth his mother Daisy would write a daily diary page for her son. The diary ends in 1915 and never sees the light of day till the 1950's when it is found.

Douglas was one of the earliest of the survivors of the Titanic to die, His father would live on till 1947. Dying of a heart attack in a swimming pool and drowning.   Irony shows itself in many unique places.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The wonder of sound recording

I am writing this because in  my imagination I was thinking about Berliner's recording laboratory in Washington D.C. in 1895.
  As I thought more about it the more I was transfixed on the whole wonder of sound recording.  It has not been with us too long. It only started as a commercial medium around 1889-1890. That commercial medium was seen by perhaps .001% of the general population as it was not something for the general public. It was for all intents a rich man's toy.

 But now as I sit here in front of my laptop computer and type I think of what a different world it was and how this "toy" would transfix humanity.  The term sound recording is most ubiquitous as it is everywhere. We are surrounded by it, we are bombarded by it, we are experiencing it often without even knowing it. We have become jaded to the very essence of it. Can you think of many public places not infused with recorded sound? Be it messages, music, tones, or noise filtering hums.

Sound recording has allowed us to bridge generations, even centuries. I recall having a conversation with another historian and we were talking about how one record existed that Abraham Lincoln would probably recognize the voice. It was the record made in 1898 by Chauncey Depew, who had several conversations with Lincoln in the 1860's. I was thinking of that and saying that here was a recording that would have been recognized by those long dead before sound recording was invented or had become a massive medium.

 I am sure that Lincoln saw Joseph Jefferson on the stage at one time or another. He was traveling in many shows in the 1840's and 50's and I am sure at one time or another Lincoln would have seen Jefferson on stage. Jefferson made records in 1898 and in 1903. This again might be a recording that Lincoln might have recognized.

Adelina Patti sang for the 15th president, James Buchanan in the late 1850's. He was born in the 1790's and I can hear Patti today. Maybe I am an old romantic, but I find that amazing. The historical connections are overwhelming and most unique.

Sound has been captured for us by those long gone from us. But the wonder of sound is that they stay with us. I can still hear Joseph Jefferson, I can hear the voices of some of those who were around during the Civil War. I can hear the song John Browns Body sung by those who were alive when it meant something more than an interesting relic of a byeregone time. The Fab Four will always be young, Caruso will always be singing gloriously and Theodore Roosevelt who did not give a damn about posterity (his words) will forever influence it
 It has allowed us to share history with our grandparents and our grandchildren....For as we live and die, sound recording will go on forever.  I can only imagine what will be thought of these early recordings in the years of the 25th century. Perhaps they will say pretty much the same, but talk about 500 years of sound recording and the wonder of it all.   Just perhaps they may marvel at the fact they can hear the voice of Queen Elizabeth or President Obama. Perhaps hear a TV show or Radio program and try to imagine what it was like to live in the primitive 21st century.   We think we live in a world that is so  advanced, well so were Edison cylinder records and life in 1890.

I remember playing some recordings for operatic basso Jerome Hines and tenor Franco Corelli. I played on a Victrola some recordings of Tetrazzini, Caruso, Melba, Scotti, Homer and Farrar. It was interesting to see them react to the recordings and in one case talk about one of these artists they had known. The recorded sound transcended time and the singers were one with their forebears....

It still happens..

Next time you hear a sound recording and that is almost everywhere, stop and think of the wonder and the history of it all.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What was the Columbia record Climax and how did some of the early Climax recordings get on Columbia labels?

Note the stamping on the upper right of the label saying VTM. This recording is from Feb - April. 1902. As the Victor Talking Machine Company bought the Globe Record Company in Jan 1902. This was the first label for the Columbia disc market made between 1901 and 1902.

In mid 1901 the Columbia Graphophone Company got into the disc record market. It was not easy to do and quite a detailed undertaking. But after seeing the success of the Berliner, Zonophone (which was influenced by their company) and most recently for them the Victor records manufactured by Eldridge Reeves Johnson, they knew they needed to get into the fray.

 But how does one start a disc record division when you have nothing to make them with?  This is when the Columbia Company under the control of Edward Easton took a trip to New Jersey. They had been located in NYC, but they needed a place to make their disc records.
 They found a Company called the Globe Record Company to do the job. It was through this group that the earliest of the Columbia records are pressed. This is where it does get a bit confusing.  We know Edward Easton who was the head of the Columbia Graphophone Company pushed hard to defeat Victor.

  I know that by summer 1901 Columbia is pressing records called Climax records. This is being done in contrast to the Berliner Patents, but it was hit and miss in those days as to who was in control of what. The Climax label would last into 1902 when Columbia made a deal with a company now called the Victor Talking Machine Company. This was the little company that was run by Eldridge Reeves Johnson mentioned before. However now this company was making well over a million a year in the business. Not only that, but Eldridge Johnson had bought the Globe Record Company and to the Columbia Companies embarrassment all of the Climax records would also be imprinted with the initials VTM on each record.

 This was one of the main reasons that Columbia came to the table with Victor. Cause although the Victor company did not like to admit it,  Columbia had what Victor needed as well as Victor had what Columbia did as well. At this point in 1902 Columbia ceased producing Climax records. (They also had the Joseph Jones Patent granted on December 10, 1901) This was a powerful poker chip and Columbia played it wisely. For this patent, as bogus as it was, would be the patent that would allow the modern method of disc recording. Through this deal was born the Columbia Disc label.

 When they came out with their own label called a Columbia Disc Record, some of the old material somehow slipped through the cracks and for a while a number of Climax records would receive Columbia labels. This would make for some confusing business for the rest of 1902 as all recordings in those days with a few exceptions had a spoken announcement in the beginning and many of these Columbia Records were proudly introduced as Climax ones!

.. By 1903 everything with a Columbia Label was a Columbia record and announced so. By late 1903 the announcement would vanish as well as each record had a paper label. So why bother I am sure was the question..I am sure everyone saw that as over kill.

 But the history of the Climax record is one full of some fascinating details. A short lived company of which little today is known, but the beginning of the famous Columbia Disc Record. The copies of Climax Records are not at all common today.  Every now and then a few are found. But as a general rule they are quite rare today. Pioneers of the recording industry from over 110 years ago!